By Raphael Israeli
The Debate over Children Martyrs
Interestingly enough, though the universal Palestinian jubilation vis-à-vis martyrdom has peaked during the Aqsa Intifadah that broke out in October 2000, the Palestinians were "educated" and prepared for martyrdom much before. There are tapes of incitement of school children to become martyrs dating back to 1998, though in most of them martyrdom per se is extolled without necessarily encouraging the young to blow themselves up in the process. Indeed, martyrdom was instilled in them as an ideal not only in the context of the dramatic and much hallowed Islamikaze actions, but also as a routine of a grinding confrontation with Israeli troops, where the demonstrating children, imbued with the audacity to face the enemy and provoke him, could end up dying. In that case of passive death too, unlike the active search of death by the Islamikaze, they would be considered martyrs. Clips abound of young teen-agers vowing martyrdom on Palestinian television, but the most dramatic and world renowned, which was played and replayed by the world media, concerned Muhammed al-Dura. In November, 2000, at the very onset of the intifadah, he was killed in cross-fire, apparently shot by Palestinians as it later turned out, in an area of confrontation where children should have been kept away from in the first place. But since it is part of the Palestinian strategy to push their children to the frontline and then turn their own callousness towards their children into a propaganda campaign against
The clip on Dura on Palestinian Television was re-enacted by actors, following his tragic death, with his genuine picture being shown lying in the field and, interspersed with many violent scenes of battle, he is always shown in beautiful, peaceful places, running along the beach, or through the Plaza of the Aqsa Mosque, or alongside wonderful fountains, flying a kite in a green pasture, approaching a giant wheel. The soundtrack is telling the children that death in conflict with
These harrowing concepts with which the children of Palestine are indoctrinated on their national television, by their own leaders, to adopt as their own, are supported by the clerics of the Palestinian Authority in general, chief among them is the same 'Akrama Sabri cited above. In an interview to the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram al-'Arabi, the Sheikh not only lay claim, as a matter of course, to all Israel, as part of his struggle, but he stressed the need for martyrdom of children in the process of "liberating" Jerusalem and all the rest of Palestine, in order to prove that the "new generation will carry on the mission with determination". He said:
We have not sacrificed enough yet to be worthy of liberating Al-Aqsa…To liberate Jerusalem, Salah a-Din al-Ayyubi made great sacrifices for a long time, and we have to sacrifice until Allah's victory is completed…The land of Palestine is not only Jerusalem. This land stretches from the
Every Palestinian is in fact in a state of Jihad. I feel the martyr is lucky because the angels usher him to his wedding in Heaven… There is no doubt that the child martyr suggests that the new generation will carry on the mission with determination… The younger the martyr, the greater he is, and the more I respect him… One wrote his name on a note before he died… It said 'I am Martyr so and so' .In every martyr's pocket we find a note with his name on it. He sentences himself to martyrdom even before he becomes a martyr… The mothers [who cry in joy when they hear of their sons' martyrdom], willingly sacrifice their offspring for the sake of freedom. It is a great display of the power of belief. The mother is participating in the great reward of the Jihad to liberate al-Aqsa. I talked to a young man who said :' I want to marry the black-eyed women of Heaven'. The next day he became a martyr. I am sure his mother was filled with joy about his heavenly marriage. Such a son must have such a mother…
…I am filled or rage towards the Jews. I have never greeted a Jew when I come near one and I never will. They cannot even dream that I will. They do not dare to bother me because they are the most cowardly creatures Allah has ever created… Palestinian children are thus taught, almost from their birth to hate Jews and to glorify Jihad, even to the point of their own death and martyrdom, as an essential part of their culture.
So much for the Chief Cleric of the Palestinian Authority, and his underlings, who are not known to have sent their own children to the "martyrdom" they have been ardently preaching to others. However, in contrast to the clerics who encouraged acts of Islamikaze, obviously in response to the huge wave of popular support for that mode of struggle, there were some mainstream professionals, such as Ashraf al-'Ajrami, a columnist in the Palestinian Authority daily, Al-Ayyam, who realized the damage that the outrageous procedure of using children caused to national interest, and counseled to desist from it. He acknowledged the fact that "the phenomenon of martyrdom was on the increase, especially among minors", but expectedly blamed the "Israeli occupation" for the "degradation of life which pushes many to disdain life and seek the shortest way to the hereafter". But he also admitted that it was the "honor and esteem that the Palestinian people give to the martyr that has had a crucial effect on the emergence of this phenomenon". He also imputed a great importance in this regard to the "funerals of the martyrs and the celebrations held in their honor, which have always been accompanied by talks of everlasting life and eternal serenity in
The columnist, who appears to be well-updated on the techniques and motivations of the young Islamikaze, delves into terrifying details and counsels to desist from this practice, not for the moral burden it puts on the Palestinian leadership, that would be too daring a criticism, but for the damage it causes to Palestinian propaganda:
Some are willing to arm them for money –with pistols, hand grenades, and readily available pipe bombs that cost only a few Shekels. These brainwashed children are imbued with motivation to approach the nearest settlement where they are shot dead by the soldiers of the occupation….
The children's martyrdom promotes the hostile propaganda of the enemies, particularly in reinforcing their claims that the Palestinians send their children to the front line. These are false claims aimed at justifying the indiscriminate shooting at all the Palestinians…The phenomenon also causes the children to rebel against their parents, insofar as the children threaten their parents that they would martyr themselves if the parents did not accede to their demands or did not turn a blind eye on their inappropriate behavior…Moreover, some of the children have used pipe-bombs during arguments amongst themselves…
Collective efforts should be made to contain this phenomenon… All activities having an ill-effect on the children's emotional stability, pulling them in directions outside the normal matters of children, must be monitored… The security apparatuses should apprehend the arms traffickers and collaborators, who are acting among the youths to make money or to exterminate this generation together with its nationalist enthusiasm and its will to fight… It is also important to stop the mosques from engaging in exaggerated political activity and providing grounds for anyone who wants to abuse the minds of youth and minors… The Palestinian media also have a role in refraining from broadcasting pictures affecting the emotional state of children, and from exaggerating in reporting tragic news that arouses the children's feelings of frustration and despair…
A rare courageous Arab voice against the self-immolation of children was raised by a female Arab journalist, Huda al-Husseini, who was incensed at the systematic sacrifice of children in a war they did not initiate and they perhaps ill-comprehended:
Some Palestinian leaders… consciously issue orders with the purpose of ending the childhood [of their youth], even if this means their last breath. I want to know why we, the Arabs, insist on dying rather than living for our homeland. If these children have nothing to lose, and they think the training is a game, are we supposed to continue pushing them with hypocrisy and stupid enthusiasm to actually lose their lives? Have we exhausted all means and used every argument, have we exhausted our brains, and have nothing left but to gamble with the lives of children and push them to confront
The time for Arafat and those around him has reached its dusk… First of all, these children deserve to live, before we push them to find death. But, what are we doing to them? We abuse their innocence, we supply them with tons of stones, while we sit in our offices and commend their death. Then we accept an invitation for a working lunch or dinner and talk about those children who died holding stones, those that died, probably hungry….
But others in the Arab world, including supposedly enlightened academics, and certainly populist self-made clerics who do not conform to the establishment, as well as non-Palestinian jurists and other notables, remain unflinching in their support to the Islamikaze. For example, Halim Barakat, a Professor at
The respectable Ambassador, who has been serving his country in London for a decade, so that one could suspect that some civility may have rubbed off to him, wrote of teen-ager Ayat that "doors of Heaven are opened to her"and that the "heart of the White House was filled with darkness". The British Foreign Ministry, which released a statement dubbing "suicide bombing as a form of terrorism", pledged that some senior official would make clear British views to the Ambassador, but did not rebuke the Ambassador nor undertook any other measure against him. The Board of Deputies of British Jews stated that it was "appalled", but no action was taken to oust from civilization the author of that appalling statement. Another Saudi notable, also a holder of a PhD, Dr Ibrahim al-Sa'adat, a columnist in the government-owned daily al-Jazira, came out with a campaign of idolization of 'Abd-al-Baset 'Oudeh, who detonated himself in the Netanya Hotel during the Passover Seder, killing 29 people and wounding scores of others, and also the young Ayat al-Akhras. His description of his "heroes" is almost as horrendous as the acts themselves:
May Allah have mercy on you, Mujahid and martyr, the quiet hero who infiltrated so elegantly and spoke so gaily. You defended your religion, your homeland, and your people… Courageously, full of willingness to wage Jihad… you executed your assignment and sacrificed your pure soul… The Israeli military, armed to the teeth, did not remove a hair of your head…You knew the Zionists do not honor promises, treaties and understand only the language of resistance and Jihad…
May Allah have mercy on you, 'abd-al-Baset, the beloved son of the Arab nation. You awakened the hope that had begun to dissipate, you restored life [by killing 29 innocent civilians] that had begun to expire; you revived the Arab pride, chivalry, valor and sacrifice that had begun to die, and you caused pain to the people who had begun to celebrate and sing atop the bodies of the children, youth and mothers of your people.. You entered silently, with the faith and the confidence with which Allah inspired you… You reached your destination, you sat down at one of the tables, talked, told a few jokes and laughed with them, and then Allah decreed for you a martyr's death. What heroism, courage and strength – almost unmatched on the face of the earth !
May Allah have mercy on you Ayat al-Akhras ! You left your home for the path of martyrdom and Paradise…You proceeded with a determination, will and strength rarely found, even impossible to find, in a 16 year old girl…
You did not seek advise from the American or Russian governments… you knew that the hand of Allah is supreme, that self-sacrifice is the highest form of Jihad. You were not tempted by, nor did you rejoice in, the life of this world… Oh, beloved of the Arab nation of 16 springs. Marriage was before you, you were a girl engaged and looking forward to …wed; except that you chose Allah,
 . I am indebted to my colleague Dr Daphne Burdman, who brought to my attention the transcript of the clip that was repeatedly shown on Palestinian television throughout 2001 and 2002.
 . Al-Ahram al-'Arabi, 28 October, 2000. Memri, cited by David Kupelian, in 2000 WorldNetDaily.com. See also Gerald Steinberg, the Jerusalem Post, 27 October, 2000.
 . For details on Palestinian textbooks, see R. Israeli "Education,
 .Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), 3 May, 2002, Memri 376, 6 May, 2002. On
 . Ibid.
 .Al-Sharq al-Awsat (
 . Al-Hayat (
 . BBC News, 18 April, 2002.
 . Ibid.
 .Al-Jazirah, (